Thursday, November 10, 2011

#OccupyWeaverStreet?? -- Social Justice AND Sales Growth ...

What does it mean when the employee 'Market Messenger' for Weaver Street Market Co-operative announces that we are making more of a profit so far this year than last; but urges workers to increase sales in any event; while a financial report of confusing figures, posted quietly on the break-room noticeboard, grimly declares that our payroll costs are ahead of our sales growth?

Hmm. Before I answer that, let me quote the Editor of The Co-operative Grocer, from his Editorial Notes in the October issue of CG:

"Investor-driven corporations are eroding the world’s human communities and the natural environment that makes those communities possible. Giving primacy to return on investment is key to why privately held corporations are doing so much damage. Cooperatives’ foundation in democratic ownership, with shared responsibilities and benefits, is why they offer a better direction and a more trustworthy structure. Cooperatives offer a well-defined alternate means of addressing social injustice and organizing enterprise that meets basic needs."

Ooh. Sounds good. Like spreading a thick layer of Occupy all over your morning muffin, isn't it? Dave continues - and this is where it gets relevant to WSM:

"However, cooperative and capitalist firms alike, along with public and governing institutions, are challenged to shift their outlook to a recognition of limits: limits to debt, to resource consumption, and even to THE GOD OF ECONOMIC GROWTH. If conservation and governance are not grounded in a more stable and democratic economy, many shared improvements will be lost. Private capital’s social war will spread until its productive forces are themselves destroyed by the collapse of debt-based growth and by climate chaos."

If Occupy is about anything, it is about getting off the consumerist/capitalist/economic-growth-is-all bandwagon. And yet here is our very own local co-op whipping us into a frenzy to sell, sell, sell, at whatever cost, using all the marketing gimmickry in the consumerist handbook. Why?

Why did we need to achieve a 9% sales growth in 2010, and what happened to it? Why do we need to achieve yet more sales growth this year, and what is happening to it?

And what payroll growth? I'm not aware of massive new hiring. Certainly not of my department taking on 10% more staff, or of my receiving a 10% pay increase (my Southern Village store is currently recording a 10% sales increase for 2011).

And what is the starting point for saying that payroll is growing too quickly? The common view around the co-op (at least among shopfloor workers) is that The Great Recession left payroll too light in any event.

Co-op's exist solely for the purpose of providing for the common needs of their stakeholders - and that includes employees, consumers and owners, not just the management in the WSM corporate office.

I do not hear consumers demanding to buy 10% more. And I do not hear workers demanding to work 10% harder. Indeed, the talk in my department (kitchen) in SV is that we are overworked already.

So, what does this all mean? It means that workers are going to be asked to work even harder for the remainder of this year, without seeing a commensurate growth in payroll. That means working harder for less, as we go along. All over again.

And. What is worse. Workers are not being given any opportunity to discuss these figures, or debate what effect they should have on our working environment, notwithstanding the fact that one of the primary clauses of WSM's Mission Statement is that workers should experience a fulfilling work environment.

I write elsewhere that, in future, companies should be responsive not only to investors, but also to employees and the community. In our co-op, as Dave says, that should already be a reality.

It is not in Weaver Street Market Co-operative. It should be. Some consumers told me that they had been joking recently about #OccupyWeaverStreet. Why joke ... ??